Cornwall councillor calls for racism, discrimination probe

Cornwall Coun. Elaine MacDonald during a city council meeting Jan. 11, 2016. MacDonald has asked for a probe into whether the city has unconscious racism or discrimination when it comes to hiring. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston)

CORNWALL – A Cornwall councillor is looking at the possibility of a full-scale survey of city staffers to root out any unintended discrimination or racism.

A motion by Coun. Elaine MacDonald and supported by Coun. Bernadette Clement at last night’s council meeting (Monday) will have staff look at how this would be carried out with a report likely sometime next month.

In an interview with Cornwall Newswatch, MacDonald said she was inspired by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s gender-based filling of the Liberal cabinet last fall.

“When I saw the prime minister choose so many women to be in the cabinet. In fact, I think he was going for a better showing of women than we’ve had in the past and I immediately thought of our city and I thought, gee, in terms of our administration and even our council I wondered if we were doing anything deliberate to have a better result than we do,” MacDonald told CNW.

The councillor said there’s never been a city policy and the city has been run under the assumption that those doing the hiring are “going in the right direction.” MacDonald doesn’t believe any city managers are making a “conscious” or “malicious” decision to discriminate against minority groups, suggesting that candidates may be picked because a manager traditionally sees a certain type of person in a certain role.

“I think a count, a survey is going to show us if, in fact, we are going in the right direction or if we’re just marking time. I know we’re three women on council but we’ve been three women on council in the past.”

MacDonald was asked if the survey was the best use of city resources. “Absolutely! You know there are no Francophones around this (council) table?”

The councillor believes having minority groups around the council table would encourage others to seek office or to apply for jobs at the city. “If we don’t have Muslims, for example, at our council table. Maybe it’s because we haven’t reached out to them. But, maybe not.”

She said the optics of moving forward with this plan are “going to be awful…I know that because people get their backs up. I think you heard here tonight we’d rather have merit (based hiring). People assume that if you deliberately target a sector that you’re choosing second best. I don’t know why the assumption,” she said.

A report will come to council on whether it should conduct a “non-invasive” survey of all its staff, boards and committees.

“I think we’re in this age that people have not been able to recognize merit and experience in some form other than the default. If you’ll accept that the default is traditionally white, male, maybe merit doesn’t only look like a white, male. Maybe we’re just not used to seeing comparable merit in a white, female,” MacDonald said.

“Times are changing and I fear sometimes we’re not changing as quickly as we should.”